With the recent government shutdown sure to give businesses an excuse to take actions they were planning anyways, I thought I’d take a moment to discuss what those actions will likely mean: more layoffs!
Layoff days are traumatic. For everyone. Regardless of whether you were chosen by the Gods to be flicked away like a scab, or were one of the survivors who huddled by the water cooler to discuss the departed before scattering like field mice when they walked around the corner with a box of their shit, the first time you’re in an organization and watch people you worked with get cut loose can be traumatizing.
The first time I encountered layoffs was during the height of the Great Recession, when cutting staff was all the rage. We had a Human Resources Manager who was a ninja when it came to letting people go. Her tactic was simple– distract the team while the Director pulled the victim aside and IT bundled their equipment and boxed their possessions. The operation was like clockwork, and most were already driving home before they realized they had even been fired.
Layoffs begin with one word: calibration. Your Human Resources partner comes to you and says, “Just doing some tidying up and wondered if you can rank your employees on this list. Nothing to worry about.” Two weeks later, you find out what percentage will get cut from the bottom of the list, minus the protected class who you’ll have to argue with Legal over unless you have some really solid evidence against. I’ve heard attorneys argue that the dimmest bulbs in the bunch should be spared and the best ushered out simply because the dunce in your group just got back from 3 weeks of leave for a broken wrist. “A jury could be construe it as retaliatory” they’ll say.
As a Manager, layoffs can go either way. If you’re running a lean staff of hungry, functional peers who are humming through their workflows each day, having to select human beings to cut is like being Sophie choosing which child the Nazis will take away. Other times you know exactly which sonofabitch needs to go and the team will likely celebrate that you’ve finally cut the fat. “It’s about time” will be the only reaction you’ll get. One of the most constant rules of nature I’ve found is that those you hired who came to you from a layoff will likely top your list of those you would cut if forced to choose. Something about them reeks of being expendable.
I found that when I’m choosing my layoff list it’s best to sit in a dark room, listen to big, ominous music and then pretend I’m channeling the Gods as I move paper figurines I’ve made of my staff around a Ouija board. “Whilst thou Gods be merciful to Katherine of Client Services, whose deeds be great but whose punctuality is poor?” … “No”.
It’s never done me wrong.